Press Release Feb 25, 2020

Park Advocates Speak Out Against Administration’s Environmental Rollbacks

Climate change is happening. Ignoring it won’t stop it.

Washington, DC – At the Department of the Interior today, environmental organizations, congressional members and national park advocates showed up in full force to speak up for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a law that has protected America’s public lands and national parks for the last 50 years. NEPA gives people a voice in how their public lands are used, ensuring that impacts to our air, water and wildlife are considered before development projects move forward. Now, the administration is proposing unprecedented revisions to NEPA that deliberately ignore years of science-driven data and let the government and industry off the hook for addressing the impacts of climate change on our national parks.

Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for the National Parks Conservation Association, and Jessica Loya, member of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Next Generation Advisory Council, were two of the many voices who testified directly to the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, urging the agency to withdraw its proposal to gut this bedrock conservation law and demanding the administration take the effects of climate change on our public lands and communities seriously.

Testimony by Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for the National Parks Conservation Association:

“The revisions being proposed to the National Environmental Policy Act are an insult to the original intent of the law. In just three minutes, how can I possibly address all of the ways these appalling changes harm front-line communities and public lands? None of us testifying today should have to ask our own government to use science when making decisions that impact the entire country. Climate change is causing catastrophic damage to our environment. That’s a fact. Stripping one of our best tools to address it is inconceivable.

“In its more than 100-year history, climate change is the greatest threat our National Park System has ever faced. Parks are melting, burning, and drying as our country’s dependence on fossil fuels pollute our landscapes and harm our communities.

“One of the many victims is our world-renowned Everglades National Park. Its pristine beauty, from mangrove forests to sawgrass plains, has been ravaged by fluctuations in annual temperature and extreme weather events. Rare or endangered species, such as sea turtles and Florida Panthers, are being pushed from their native habitat, risking their very survival. Sea level rise and storm surges are collapsing these already vulnerable ecosystems.

“And it’s not just the Everglades. Dire situations are developing across the entire park system. Biscayne in Florida has lost 80 percent of its coral reef. Four glaciers have melted in the North Cascades since 1984. Joshua Tree National Park will likely see its last Joshua tree in the next 80 years. These losses are direct consequences of a rapidly changing climate caused by human activity. Our park system is the canary in the coal mine - unless we act immediately and with purpose, they will no longer exist the way we know them today.

“I cannot say this strongly or clearly enough: NPCA is opposed to these revisions to NEPA. Analyzing how a federal project, through potential cumulative impacts, could degrade the environment is fundamental to the NEPA process. But if these changes go through, the federal government will no longer be obligated to consider how the latent effects of an action could threaten the health of our public lands, visitors and surrounding communities. In the past, using NEPA, we avoided unnecessary environmental damage, such as increased carbon dioxide emissions and downstream pollutant damage, around vulnerable communities. From oil pipelines to wildlife management – the public deserves to know that their government is protecting national parks now, and for generations to come.

“These changes to NEPA are equivalent to the federal government putting their heads in the sand. Climate change is happening. Ignoring it won’t stop it. For the future of our most cherished wild spaces, from Acadia to Zion, we must use our best available science in decision making, especially in an increasingly fragile natural world. Now is not the time to abandon science. We must embrace it. The American public and our National Parks deserve better.”

Testimony by Jessica Loya, member of the Next Generation Advisory Council of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA):

“Good evening, my name is Jessica Loya and today I am here representing not just myself but the 16 other members of the Next Generation Advisory Council of the National Parks Conservation Association. The Next Generation Advisory Council is a group of inspiring young professionals from across the country who although different in lived experience all share the same passion and love for our nation’s national parks and public lands. Our passion for our parks and public lands has led us to be leaders in ensuring their protection for the enjoyment and benefit of future generations and it is in this vein that we are opposed to the proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

“NEPA was created to “promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans” and the proposed changes would drastically inhibit the law’s ability to successfully complete its original intent.

“First, the current NEPA process is one that seeks to provide an opportunity for fair discussion between all stakeholders no matter the political influence and power that one might yield. It allows the perspectives, priorities, and values of small business owners such as those in the gateway communities of our National Parks, and park enthusiasts, like myself, to be heard by the federal government.

“The revisions seek to remove these opportunities of public input that communities and important stakeholders have used to communicate openly with the federal government about how proposed projects on our federal lands could impact us. These changes are especially concerning, as our national parks represent the democratic principles of “by and for the people” that make them America’s Best Idea.

“Second, the proposed changes would impact the National Park Service’s ability to complete its own mandate under the Organic Act, “provide for their use and enjoyment” in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired” for future generations. The proposed removal of NEPA’s requirement that federal agencies analyze a proposed project’s indirect and cumulative impacts on climate change, would leave our NPS unable to prepare for the impacts that climate change is already having, and will continue to have on our parks and wildlife. If we do not address climate change at all levels including the proposed projects on or near our federal lands then they will surely not be left “unimpaired” for future generations.

“In short, the proposed changes to NEPA are not in line with the democratic principles of our nation and the values of protecting our parks and public lands, for future generations that our institutions like the NPS were created to do over a century ago. We must do everything in our power to ensure that our nation’s treasures are protected for generations to come.”

###

About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.